MOTHER RUSSIA, Phoenix Theatre, at the Theatre Building. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher is probably best known here for his clever, unconventional literary adaptations: in the last year and a half, Bailiwick has staged his Shaw-inspired Smash and Pyewacket his Turn of the Screw. Now the Phoenix Theatre, based in Indianapolis, brings an original Hatcher work to a Chicago stage.

Literary adaptations actually comprise only a small fraction of Hatcher’s work: in his relatively short career, he’s written over two dozen plays. And if Mother Russia is any indication, his original works are his best. Chaos breaks out in this play as a number of eccentrics descend on a Russian estate to seek the advice of a witch. Mother Russia has all the elements of a straightforward farce–slamming doors, mistaken identities, plenty of hanky-panky. But if it’s a farce, it’s an exceptionally well-rounded one: in the midst of all the slapstick and burlesque, Hatcher finds time to consider the political and economic ramifications of the collapse of communism.

Director Bryan Fonseca keeps things tight and brisk, and the actors are strong–especially Tony McDonald and Diane Kondrat as a neurotic, Bible-thumping couple from Terre Haute. This may be the first of Hatcher’s original works to be staged in Chicago, but hopefully it won’t be the last.

–Nick Green